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Column: Reflections before the storm

Posted: September 17, 2018 1:57 p.m.
Updated: September 18, 2018 1:00 a.m.

OK, first I should apologize for last week.

I dislike negativity and defeatism, especially in me. We have our problems, to be sure, but I will always believe love conquers hate, good eventually wins over evil and sooner or later, we’ll all, each and every one of us, realize just how full of it we are and all just go have a beer together.

Or not, but maybe we’ll all lighten up a little.

As I write this, a whirling demon some 400 miles wide is bearing down on my beloved coast. As always, the prognosticators are fairly sure, up until the ninth hour, that it’s going to hit somewhere between Savannah, Ga., and Bar Harbor, Maine. In the meantime, we go through the hassles of storm prep, up to and including (for some) moving into some hot, stinky, overcrowded high school gym somewhere until the whirling lady passes through.

And yet, as aggravated as I am, I do know that we are better prepared to deal with it than, say, folks who live in places like Haiti and the Phillipines.

In other words, here, it’s a hassle. To be sure, it can be deadly, but usually only to the very unlucky or the extremely foolhardy. If you’re that guy (or gal) who attempts to ride out a 12-foot storm surge in a second story front beach bedroom, then you should do everyone a favor and leave some identifying artifacts for the recovery teams to give to your family. It’s pretty much that stark, harsh and simple.

I used to be that guy -- give me some beer and my surfboard and I’d be just fine. I can remember laughing at a friend of mine who got arrested for paddling across the inlet in Pawleys Island trying to get to the beach to surf one storm --  because he obviously didn’t know the right path to sneak down from the mainland like the rest of us.

These days, I like to think that ship has sailed, that the days of taking ridiculously stupid chances are long over. While it seems like only yesterday, it was actually almost 25 years ago that I paddled out into 10-12 foot waves directly in the wake of Hurricane Bertha. What I remember about that -- other than the sheer thrill of taking off, living through the drop and even covering up in the tube on a huge, perfectly formed, absolutely glassy monster in a post Cat-2 hurricane sea -- was the eerie silence of it all. For one, you had to paddle way out -- like, significantly out past the end of the pier. You could hear the waves breaking off in the distance on the shore like some distance and rhythmic howitzer barrage, but that was it. The water, even that far out, was strangely warm and took on this bizarre, unnatural hue of obviously disturbed orange-brown, almost the color of a really bad 1970s leisure suit or a patch of especially cheesy shag carpet. There were hundreds of other surfers out there -- it seemed like everyone from Hatteras to Jupiter Inlet was there -- and yet I still felt like I would imagine an astronaut feels like on their first spacewalk.

I know now that I was very lucky that afternoon. I didn’t get rocketed into a pier piling or a rock groin, or get pummeled by a vicious closeout, or pirouette off slippery fiberglass into violently threshing, pounding, inexorable, washing machine spin cycle white water.

I made it. In fact, I made about 15 of them that evening.  I’ll have that moment forever; no one can ever take it away from me; it’s mine and I earned it.

I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world -- but I can’t say that I would ever do it again.


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